Something Beautiful

28 06 2007

Sinead

By Jill Ettinger

If art is anything, the label often fitting is: misunderstood. Individual interpretations unite us in curious contemplation, and artist’s intentions drift somewhere in the spaces between our reflections. Still the fire burns to create for art’s sake. Sinead O’ Connor is one of those artists whose intentions have not only been misunderstood, but gravely unappreciated. She will in all likelihood be most remembered for her 1992 Saturday Night Live performance where she changed a line in Bob Marley’s classic “War” to reveal her contempt with the Catholic church. Her reinterpretation followed the statement “fight the real enemy,” as she tore to pieces a picture of the Pope. The crowd fell silent, no doubt stunned and confused. She would suffer the humiliation of overplayed media misogyny and hyper religious groups destroying her albums en masse, as vengeful, self-righteous payback on behalf of heaven’s papal correspondent.

But perhaps falling into a reclusive position was a blessing in disguise. Her artistic explorations seemed to become bolder and more left of center than if her path led to more MTV airtime. Such evolutions are exciting, and O’Connor’s Theology is an incredibly soft and intrepid progression. On the heels of her highly acclaimed 2005 reggae cover album Throw Down Your Arms, O’Connor blends spiritual inspiration from her Catholic upbringing and continuous fascination with Rastafarian culture on 22 Songs. (Two versions of ten: one acoustic “Dublin,” and the other, full band “London” style, plus a 43-second traditional Irish Folk Song and cover of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.”)

Theology’s original compositions are heavily based on passages from the Old Testament with a Rasta tone, this Dubliner delivers eerily well, as evident on rootsy tracks like “Glory of Jah” and “Psalm 33.” Theology is definitely a religious recording; much in the same way Dylan’s Slow Train Coming was a personal spiritual exploration, not pious pontification. The haunting melody on “Watcher of Men” begs as boldly as lyrics: “And where rest those whose strength is spent/where small and great are alike and the slave is free of his master.” Two gorgeous versions of Curtis Mayfield’s “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue” reveal O’Connor’s raspy request for a world of tolerance and respect. “Whomsoever Dwells” (London Session) drifts upwards into one of the records highlights with a bumpy bass line (courtesy of Robbie Shakespeare of Sly and Robbie) tipping off as O’Connor’s whisper drips to meet it. “If You Had a Vineyard” lingers, with its harsh Irish annunciation, but it’s the achy plea on “Something Beautiful” is where O’Connor is most exposed. It is a candid love song (to her deity of choice), sung in the “Nothing Compares 2 U” uniquely Sinead way. Her bellowing voice has matured and her desperate, humble petitions are remarkably undeniable.

On the surface, dread Rasta meets Catholic catechist may seem an unimaginable marriage, and to some no doubt, even deplorable. But it works. O’Connor is an incredibly talented artist who takes risks. She has no fear in speaking her truth through her art and that is something beautiful.

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